Shortly past midnight on Wednesday, May 12, a noticeably slimmer Gucci Mane walked out of the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, GA to a crowd of media and supporters. His release comes six months after he was sentenced to a year in prison on November 12, 2009 for violating probation in a 2005 assault case. His sentence was shortened due to time served in September 2008, following a previous probation violation in the same case.

In addition to a handful of fans who had gathered outside the county jail just before midnight, Gucci was welcomed home by his manager Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Todd Moscowitz, executive vice-president of Warner Bros. Records, who escorted the rapper out of the prison facility. Awaiting him on the outside were fellow ATL rapper Shawty Lo and frequent collaborator DJ Holiday, who orchestrated the release of Gucci’s most recent street album, The Burrprint 2HD last month.

Once out, Gucci took less than 10 minutes to read a prepared statement before being whisked away by his handlers. The statement allowed Gucci to thank fans, his legal team and label for their ongoing support and to express his regret over the events of the past few months.

“My incarceration came at a pivotal point in my career,” he read, hurriedly, “just as my first major label album was dropping. I was forced to miss what should have been one of the proudest moments of my life. This is something that I will make sure never happens again. I want to continue on a positive track and truly focus on being a role model to my fans and my community. I am looking towards the future with a newfound respect and appreciation for the law and a strong dedication to my music and my career.”

His last album, The State Vs. Radric Davis, which spawned hit singles “Wasted” and “Lemonade,” and featured appearances by Lil Wayne, Usher, Keyshia Cole and Gucci protégés OJ Da Juiceman and Waka Flocka Flame, remains just shy of RIAA-certified gold status, with approximately 353,000 copies sold.

Gucci Mane’s statement also briefly hinted at the controversy which has surrounded his career since his incarceration, due to perceived wrong-doing by his former management and booking team. The complaints raised by several promoters against Johnnie Cabbell of Hitt Afta Hitt Entertainment and Debra Antney of Mizay Entertainment most recently resulted in the filing of two lawsuits surrounding canceled Gucci Mane shows, one in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and the other in Lakeland, Florida. Gucci issued a statement last week announcing his formal separation from both Hitt Afta Hitt and Mizay and his decision to “[take] control of all of [his] business properties and keeping the focus on [his] career, music and artists.” He echoed that sentiment upon his release.

“Apparently a lot has happened while I was away,” he said. “I’m back to address these things. The rap game is in need of substance right now, and I’m here to address these things. I can’t wait to show the world why I feel that now that I’m free, ironically, I’m the most wanted man in Georgia. I’m hungry for success and ready to compete. I set out five years ago, to be the No. 1 rapper in hip-hop. Today, that journey continues with an even sharper focus. I challenge all artists to put out the best music they ever made this summer. I won’t accept nothing less than victory, but I still want worthy opponents.”

With So Icey Entertainment now dissolved, Gucci is currently readying the summer 2010 release of his new project The Appeal on his Asylum/Warner Bros Records-affiliated imprint 1017 Brick Squad Records. The label will also offer new projects by Wacka Flocka Flame and the group Brick Squad, which consists of OJ, Flocka and Gucci. —Tai Saint Louis